Fortean / Oddball News – 8/19/2010

Fungus Turns Ants Into Zombies

guardian – The oldest evidence of a fungus that turns ants into zombies and makes them stagger to their death has been uncovered by scientists.

The gruesome hallmark of the fungus’s handiwork was found on the leaves of plants that grew in Messel, near Darmstadt in Germany, 48m years ago.

The finding shows that parasitic fungi evolved the ability to control the creatures they infect in the distant past, even before the rise of the Himalayas.

The fungus, which is alive and well in forests today, latches on to carpenter ants as they cross the forest floor before returning to their nests high in the canopy.

The fungus grows inside the ants and releases chemicals that affect their behaviour. Some ants leave the colony and wander off to find fresh leaves on their own, while others fall from their tree-top havens on to leaves nearer the ground.

The final stage of the parasitic death sentence is the most macabre. In their last hours, infected ants move towards the underside of the leaf they are on and lock their mandibles in a “death grip” around the central vein, immobilising themselves and locking the fungus in position.

“This can happen en masse. You can find whole graveyards with 20 or 30 ants in a square metre. Each time, they are on leaves that are a particular height off the ground and they have bitten into the main vein before dying,” said David Hughes at Harvard University.

The fungus cannot grow high up in the canopy or on the forest floor, but infected ants often die on leaves midway between the two, where the humidity and temperature suit the fungus. Once an ant has died, the fungus sprouts from its head and produces a pod of spores, which are fired at night on to the forest floor, where they can infect other ants.

Scientists led by Hughes noticed that ants infected with the fungus, Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, bit into leaves with so much force they left a lasting mark. The holes created by their mandibles either side of the leaf vein are bordered by scar tissue, producing an unmistakable dumb-bell shape.

Writing in the journal, Biology Letters, the team describes how they trawled a database of images that document leaf damage by insects, fungi and other organisms. They found one image of a 48m-year-old leaf from the Messel pit that showed the distinctive “death grip” markings of an infected ant. At the time, the Messel area was thick with subtropical forests.

“We now present it as the first example of behavioural manipulation and probably the only one which can be found. In most cases, this kind of control is spectacular but ephemeral and doesn’t leave any permanent trace,” Hughes said.

“The question now is, what are the triggers that push a parasite not just to kill its host, but to take over its brain and muscles and then kill it.”

He added: “Of all the parasitic organisms, only a few have evolved this trick of manipulating their host’s behaviour.

Why go to the bother? Why are there not more of them?”

Scientists are not clear how the fungus controls the ants it infects, but know that the parasite releases alkaloid chemicals into the insect as it consumes it from the inside.

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Manipogo Provincial Park Named After Local Lake Monster

winnipegfreepress – Lake Manitoba teems with fish. Anglers can pull out large numbers of Walleye, Northern Pike, and Yellow Perch. One species of marine life that no one has managed to catch is the elusive Lake Manitoba monster – Manipogo.

Like the Loch Ness Monster, in Scotland, and Ogopogo, in Lake Okanagan, B.C., Manipogo is a large, serpent-like creature that some have claimed to have seen swimming in Lake Manitoba. Sightings have occurred throughout the last century, mainly in the Toutes Aides area, north of Ste. Rose du Lac.

Eyewitnesses have claimed the monster to be anywhere between 12 and 45 feet in length. Some have said it looked like it had the head of a horse, some say the head of a sheep.

With the majority of sightings happening around Toutes Aides, the Manitoba government decided to name the area’s provincial park after the mythical beast.

Manipogo Provincial Park is roughly 330 kilometres north-west of Winnipeg and 55 kilometres north of Ste. Rose du Lac, on Provincial Road 276. The park sits on the far north-western shore of Lake Manitoba, close to where the lake almost meets Lake Winnipegosis.

The park has a full service campground, a small convenience store, and a long strip of beach. Unfortunately, with rain coming down in sheets when we were there, we didn’t get to enjoy any of the amenities of the park. The weather seemed to have scared everyone else off as well, as the park was largely deserted.

I can’t blame them: The wind was howling off the lake at gale-force strength.

Not surprisingly, we didn’t spot Manipogo while staring out from the beach, but there have been roughly a dozen documented sightings of the lake monster since the late 1950s. Of course, like the Loch Ness Monster, Ogopogo, and Sasquatch, no one has been able to conclusively capture Manipogo on film.

The two most intriguing sightings occurred in 1962 and 1997. The first sighting was during a fishing trip. Dick Vincent of KCND Television (later CKND, now Global) and his television colleague, John Konefell, spotted a serpent-like creature and chased after it in their boat.

They were unable track down the mysterious animal, but were able to take a blurred photograph. The photograph showed a large, dark object rising two feet out of the water. In subsequent years, Vincent denied that it was Manipogo, claiming he wasn’t sure what it was.

The 1997 sighting attracted national media attention. The Globe and Mail reported, on June 12 of that year, “People in communities around Lake Manitoba are buzzing about a 15-metre snake-like creature, with a head like a horse, that was supposedly shot and spirited away under cover of darkness recently.”

The story goes something like this: A man from the Sandy Bay First Nation, north of Portage La Prairie, had claimed to come across Manipogo, while harvesting hay from his lakeshore property. He said that he grabbed a rifle, shot and killed the creature, and then dragged it to a nearby barn. The RCMP was called and they loaded Manipogo on to a flatbed truck, covered it with a tarp, and drove off towards Winnipeg.

The story quickly unravelled though, when the RCMP denied any knowledge of the incident. Stories told by alledged witnesses contradicted each other and some denied the killing occurred. In the end, the story was deemed a hoax, the result of stories told at a party that were spread around the community. This event was the last supposed sighting of Manipogo.

We left Manipogo, travelling next to Margaret Bruce Provincial Park, located on the west shore of Lake Manitoba, 140 kilometres south of Manipogo Provincial Park. Interestingly, the mysterious lake creature has never been spotted in this area. The park includes a privately operated campground and beach. Again, the driving rain prevented us from fully checking out the area.

The final provincial park we visited on this trip was Rainbow Beach Provincial Park, located on the south shore of Dauphin Lake. This campground and beach is adjacent to Highway 20, roughly 18 kilometres east of Dauphin. The beach looked like it would be a nice place to relax on a sunny afternoon, but with the wind driving the rain off the lake, it was a desolate place when we visited.

This was the first weekend journey that was completely rained out. With the weather looking a lot better for next weekend (if one can trust the forecast), we’re going to make our way west to Duck Mountain and that area’s provincial parks.

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BC Pot Farm Guarded By Black Bears

calgarysun – Smokey the bear is guarding more than old-growth forests.

Mounties in B.C. were stunned to discover a platoon of bruins standing sentinel on a huge garden of illicit smoke in sight of southeastern B.C.’s Christina Lake.

After acting on a tip reporting an outdoor marijuana grow-op, RCMP officers descended on the remote site, about 700 km southwest of Calgary, only to be greeted by up to 14 black bears that Sgt. Fred Mansveld is convinced were there to ward off pot bandits.

“They wanted to intimidate people — we do experience rip-offs around there,” said an astonished Mansveld of the Nelson RCMP.

“In 30 years working in these mountains, I’ve seen a lot of bears but I’ve never seen that … there were big bears, little bears, groups of bears.

“It just goes to show you what length people will go in this business to secure their operation.”

The bruins, he said, were extremely friendly and accustomed to surroundings made more comfortable by a steady diet of dog food.

“The bears weren’t aggressive to the police officers who worked very close to them,” he said.

One of the animals even climbed atop an RCMP cruiser to get a better view of the bust, said Mansveld.

The Mountie didn’t rule out marijuana being fed to the hairy sentinels found around a field of 1,000-1,200 pot plants.

“Maybe they mixed some pot into the food — it’s possible it’s why they were so laid-back…they were just lolligagging around,” he said, adding the bears had made friends with a racoon and pot bellied pig also found on the property.

But Mansveld said the plight of the bears is no laughing matter, given their habituation to being fed by humans.

They’ve now been trapped by B.C. conservation officials who’ll decide what to do with them.

“The ultimate fate of these bears is that they might have to be destroyed,” he said.

“If you’re really an animal-lover, you don’t kill the animal with kindness.”

Police say it appears the bears have been a fixture at the wooded farm for some time.

It’s an extreme example, said Mansveld, of an underground industry with deep, widespread roots in the area.

“It doesn’t do the area any good — we want to be on the map for the lake, hiking, golfing and fishing,” he said.

A man and woman present when police arrived are facing charges related marijuana cultivation.

There’s no word if they’ll also be facing animal abuse charges.


Cryptid Cat Roaming Harrison County, Kentucky

kentucky – A Harrison County restaurant owner said she’s heard people describe the mysterious creature as everything from “a lion to a cougar.”

Others think it might be a bobcat.

A Kentucky Tech teacher who lives in Harrison County said her students refer to the movie Napoleon Dynamite, in which the title character sketches his favorite animal: a “liger,” which might have magical powers.

Harrison County residents think this creature, spotted on a surveillance camera, killed a large dog last month.

The teacher, Tina Swinford, said she doesn’t know what’s prowling around Tim Humphries’ home about five miles west of Cynthiana. Like many others in the area, she’s seen the pictures in the local newspaper and on television. Her conclusion: “I don’t think it’s a kitty cat.”

Humphries, who lives on Ky. 32 West, said something attacked his dog twice, July 13 and July 26. The dog, a full-blooded, 85-pound collie named Apollo, died nine days after the second attack.

Humphries said Apollo never left his yard and an area behind his barn. Humphries said he saw a large animal on July 31, about a week after the second attack, as he waited with a rifle. But the animal was spooked after a dog howled.

Humphries said the large cat’s body resembles a lion, although its head does not. He said he thinks the animal might be some type of “hybrid.”

“I know it’s still out there,” Humphries said. “Some child is going to get attacked and killed.”

But law enforcement officials have declared that the animal, caught on video and in still pictures, is a domestic cat.

“We’ve been confident of that for about a week,” Harrison County Sheriff’s Detective Paul Olin said.

Olin said a Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources expert looked at the photos and agreed that the animal in question was a domestic cat. The fish and wildlife official could not be reached for comment.

Humphries’ story has found its way into restaurants and cafes across Harrison County and traveled across county lines. For about a week, Olin said, the sheriff’s office received two or three calls an hour about the animal, and people were invited into the office to view the pictures themselves.

Olin said 95 percent of the people who saw the pictures “had the same conclusion we did.”

If that’s the case, Mary Todd, owner of Biancke’s restaurant, might count herself in the minority.

“I just don’t think a regular cat can do something like that to a dog,” Todd said.

Todd said a lot of diners have laughed about the mysterious animal. But others, especially those who live near Humphries, are concerned.

Swinford said she wasn’t worried about the cat, but she would be anxious about her children’s safety if she lived in the area.

“I would not want them out,” Swinford said.

The sheriff’s office does not plan to pursue the cat anymore, but Humphries said he will search every day until he finds and kills the animal that attacked Apollo.

“They don’t want to alarm the public,” Humphries said of police and fish and wildlife officials. “But I want to alert the public.”



Most young Americans entering university this year can’t write in cursive, think email is too slow, that Beethoven’s a dog and Michelangelo a computer virus, according to an annual list compiled by two academics at a US college.

To students who will get their bachelor’s degrees in 2014, Czechoslovakia has never existed, Fergie is a pop singer, not a duchess; Clint Eastwood is a sensitive movie director, not Dirty Harry; and John McEnroe stars in TV ads, not on the tennis court, Beloit College’s “Mindset” list says.

The Mindset list was first compiled in 1998, for the class of 2002, by Beloit humanities professor Tom McBride and former public affairs director Ron Nief.

It was intended as a reminder to faculty at the university that references quickly become dated, but quickly evolved to become a hugely popular annual list that gives a snapshot of how things have changed, and chronicles key cultural and political events that have shaped a generation.

In the first Mindset list, McBride and Nief found that youngsters born in 1980 had ever known only one pope – Polish-born John Paul II, who was elected to the papacy in 1978 and died in 2008.

For the class of 2003 — born in 1981 and featured on the 1999 Mindset list — Yugoslavia never existed and they were puzzled why Solidarity was sometimes spelled with a capital S.

Solidarity with a capital S was the first and only independent trade union in the Soviet bloc. It was created in 1980 and went on to negotiate in 1989 a peaceful end to communism in Poland, making the country the first to escape Moscow’s grip.

Nief and McBride take a year to put the list together, gathering outside contributions and poring over journals, literary works, and the popular media from the year of the incoming university students’ birth.

“Then we present the ideas to every 18-year-old whose attention we can get and we wait for the ‘mindset moment’ — the blank stare that comes back at you that makes you realize they have no idea what you’re talking about,” Nief told AFP.

Those moments make it onto the list, alongside interesting historical snippets like the fact that since the class of 2004 was born in 1982, all but one national election in the United States has had a candidate in it named George Bush.

The list also chronicles geopolitical changes, and sometimes depressingly highlights how little progress has been made on key issues, such as the fight against AIDS.

The class of 2004, for instance, “never referred to Russia and China as ‘the Reds'”, and in the year they were born, 1982, “AIDS was found to have killed 164 people and finding a cure for the new disease was designated a ‘top priority’ for government-sponsored research.”

The class of 2005 — born in 1983 — thought of Sarajevo as a war zone, not an Olympic host, and had no idea what carbon paper was.

Apartheid never existed in South Africa for the class of 2006, and for the class of 2007, “Banana Republic has always been a store, not a puppet government in Latin America.”

The list is a mirror of how rapidly perceptions can change: to the class of 2013, boxer Mike Tyson was “always a felon” but to students who graduated five years earlier, Tyson was “always a contender.”

The list makes some people feel old, like those who remember what Michael Jackson looked like when he was singing in the Jackson Five or recall the days when there were only a handful of channels on television.

But they’re not the only ones who get the blues over the list.

“There are 25- and 26-year-olds that tell us they feel old when they read the list,” Nief said.

“Just two years ago, there were some students who learned to type on a typewriter,” but others in the graduating class of 2012 didn’t know that IBM had ever made typewriters, said Nief.

Few students in the class of 2009 knew how to tie a tie and most thought Iran and Iraq had never been at war with each other.

And for US students who got their bachelor’s degrees this year, Germany was never divided, professional athletes have always competed in the Olympics, there have always been reality shows on television and smoking has never been allowed on US airlines.

Fortean / Oddball News – 8/19/2010